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City Considers Moving Poll Center to Kresge

By Michael J. Ring


Residents of several west campus dormitories may soon enjoy a shorter walk to their polling place.

The Cambridge Election Commission has proposed that voters residing in Ward 2, Precinct 2 cast ballots in Kresge Auditorium instead of the current polling place, the Lafayette Square firehouse. The precinct includes Edgerton House, Bexley Hall, Macgregor House, New House, Next House, Tang Hall, and Westgate residences. The Simmons Hall and NW30 residences under construction also fall within the precinct.

“It will be easier for students to vote if they can do so in a place they walk by every day,” said former Undergraduate Association President Peter A. Shulman ’01, who spearheaded the drive to move the polling station to Kresge.

Residents of Ward 2, Precinct 3, which includes the other on-campus residences, already vote in Kresge.

Low turnout spurs location change

The impetus for moving Precinct 2-2’s polling station to an on-campus location came last fall, when groups sponsoring voter registration drives surmised less interest in voting among residents of far west campus.

“During the fall voter registration drives, we noticed that the people from westernmost campus seemed less interested in voting,” Shulman said. He added that the long distance between the west campus residences and the Lafayette Square firehouse was identified as a potential cause for the condition. The firehouse is 15-20 minute walk from far west campus dormitories.

Precinct 2-2 has experienced among the lowest turnout rates in the city. According to the Cambridge Election Commission, only 17 percent of Precinct 2-2 residents on the city’s active and inactive voters list cast ballots in the 1999 municipal election, giving the precinct the third lowest turnout rate in the city. By comparison, 22 percent of voters in Precinct 2-3, and 33 percent of voters citywide, cast ballots in that election.

In last fall’s general election, only 45 percent of voters in Precinct 2-2 named on the active and inactive rolls cast ballots, making the precinct one of only two in the city with below 50 percent turnout. By contrast, 52 percent of voters in Precinct 2-3, and 64 percent of voters citywide, cast ballots.

City commission supports change

The Cambridge Election Commission incorporated Shulman’s suggestions for an on-campus polling place into its redistricting.

Shulman said that the election commission was very receptive to the idea of moving the Precinct 2-2 polling place on campus. “They want to increase voter turnout, too,” he said.

MIT students comprise more than half the population of the precinct.

“We were able in the new re-precincting process to incorporate [Shulman’s] suggestions,” said Teresa Neighbor, director of the election commission. “It is largely due to his bringing it up” that the changes were made, she continued.

Shulman added that Kresge was a more attractive polling location than the firehouse to the commission as Kresge offers better access for the disabled.

Random voters face longer walk

While West Campus voters would enjoy a significantly shorter walk to their polling place under the Election Commission’s plan, some MIT students may have to travel further than before to cast a ballot.

Residents of Random Hall, who currently vote at the Salvation Army building on Massachusetts Avenue, would instead vote at Saint Bartholomew’s Church on Harvard Street under the new plan. Saint Bartholomew’s is about a half-mile walk from the dormitory, while the Salvation Army building is less than a quarter mile up the street from Random.

Residents of Alpha Delta Phi, the Women’s Independent Living Group, and Zeta Psi would also vote at Saint Bartholomew’s.

The boundaries of the on-campus precincts would undergo minor change. Burton-Conner, Alpha Tau Omega, Kappa Sigma, Delta Kappa Epsilon, Phi Beta Epsilon, and No. 6 Club would move from Precinct 2-3 to Precinct 2-2, but would retain a Kresge polling location under the plan.

New precincts effective in 2002

The potential changes to MIT’s voting precincts are part of an effort to reduce the number of precincts citywide from 42 to 33. The election commission will determine the final boundaries for the new precincts, based on the population data from the 2000 Census, by June 22. The new precincts and the relocation of Precinct 2-2’s polling place to Kresge would take effect beginning in the fall of 2002.

“We expect to see lots of MIT students voting now,” said Neighbor.